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A Day in the Life of an Indie Bookseller

When I moved to the Netherlands after eight years of working and living in Belgium, there were two things I could not have guessed that I would be doing: working in a bookstore, and cycling to work. The first due to my not yet perfect grasp of the Dutch language, the second because I always rode a car or took public transports everywhere.

I work in a small indie bookstore in Rotterdam, called Bosch&deJong boekverkopers. The bookstore is situated inside a food market – the Fenix Food Factory – on the southern part of town, by the river Nieuwe Maas.

I currently work four days a week, on two different schedules: the morning shift (from 9:45 a.m. to 3 p.m.) and the afternoon shift (from 2 p.m. to 7:15 p.m.). This is an account of what a morning shift looks like.

7:30 AM

Waking up and yoga.

I always start my morning by doing some yoga, which I’ve started practising on the regular again three months ago, with the helpful videos of Yoga With Adriene.
Practising yoga first thing in the morning, before doing anything else, has been the secret to doing it consistently. When I practised during the day or in the evening, I’d usually find many reasons why it wasn’t a good time to practise: I was too full, too tired, sometimes it was simply that I didn’t feel like practising it anymore.
Nowadays, I get on the mat first and leave everything else for later. It has been working wonders, and yoga helps me start the day energised and calm at the same time.

8:15 AM

After yoga, I take a quick shower, get dressed, and get ready for the day. My breakfast usually consists of bread with ham and butter, and tea or barley.

I’m one of those annoying people who don’t need coffee to wake up, and I prefer the taste of barley or tea to coffee. I’ll drink coffee if it’s not too strong. Whatever you consider “not too strong” is probably still too strong for me. I’m also peculiar about tea, lemon and ginger being my favourite flavour.

I sometimes read while having breakfast, most often I take this time to check my social media.

9 AM

Time to get on the road. I pack my things and get on my bike. The trip to work is about half an hour.

I started cycling at the beginning of the pandemic last year. Metro used to be my main means of transportation in the city, but masks in public transports were not yet mandatory and, despite warnings from the government, nobody seemed too worried about keeping distance. The metro stations and carriages continued to be packed, which made me feel unsafe.

The cycling infrastructures in the Netherlands are amazing, so I started cycling instead and I’m glad I did. I exercise, get a bit of fresh air and get to know the city better, and I still use this time to listen to audiobooks. An added bonus is that I save quite a bit of money – which I then proceed to spend on books.

8:30 AM

Being on time, to me, means being early.

I get to my workplace, lock my bike, and usually enjoy the view a minute while I drink some water and recover from the ride – listen, I’m already used to crossing the Erasmus bridge but you never really get used to crossing the Erasmus bridge, especially on windy days.

The view from the Fenix Food Factory is one of my favourites in the city, a landscape formed by the river and tall buildings.

8:45 AM

I wash my hands (relevant all the time, but especially right now), open the store, and get to work.

A regular working day varies, but there are things I always do: make sure books are in place and the store looks neat, turn on the computer, mobile, and pin machine.
On Tuesdays and Fridays we receive new releases and client’s orders. On those days it is easy to know where to start. I unbox the books, email the clients who placed orders so they’ll know their books are ready to be picked up or to be delivered, and then I put prices on the rest of the books, and distribute them onto the right shelves.

On these days we also film a short video with the new releases coming in for our social media.

On top of this, I answer emails, the phone, and have a small bite when I get peckish.

On the days with no book deliveries, I tidy up, rearrange shelves when necessary, keep a close eye on the email, try to come up with stories and posts for Instagram, and draft and schedule newsletters for the two book clubs we host.

And, of course, I help clients as they walk in. Some people like to be left alone and find things for themselves, while others really like recommendations and to chat about books, which is great.

If the day is really, really quiet and there isn’t much to rearrange or clean, and no clients to help, I also read a little, or check catalogs to know which new books are coming out in the following months.

2 PM

Another colleague starts their shift.

We take this joint hour to catch up on how the morning went, what needs to be done, and we usually work together on whatever the person working the morning shift was unable to finish.

3 PM

My shift is done! I fill up my water bottle, get on my bike, put on my headphones and an audiobook, and head home. Sometimes I deliver book orders around town, other times I head straight home to spend the rest of the afternoon with my sweetheart and our cat Debbie, who loves books as much as I do – as a chin-scratcher, though I’m sure she would appreciate the stories too if she could read them.

What I love the most about working in an indie bookstore, is how I also have a say on the books we keep in store, and how the clients appreciate our selection of books. We are a small bookstore, so we need to make tough decisions about which books we absolutely want to keep in our catalogue, and those we, unfortunately, don’t have room for.

Most clients are patient, happy to wait on an order when we don’t have something in-store, but not having everything on sale also gives up space to recommend new books, less popular books, and our personal favourites.

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